Here’s a late summer look at our place in the Valley … even now, the roses still bloom.
All my life, I wanted a lawn swing. I finally got one a few years ago from the Mennonites down the road.
The house has changed very little since we moved in here more than 12 years ago. Except for the siding, roof, and we took down the old shudders which were in poor condition. Owen replaced the whole front door some years ago. Unfortunately, it looks like it needs doing again.
The kids already bought a pumpkin. I’m sure it won’t be the last, but it’s still early. I like to get pumpkins when the air is cooler so they will last longer. But the color of this one, with its green mottling was pretty and a great round shape.
We spent Labor Day quietly. Both son and daughter-in-law were working, and The Granddaughter had her own friends over. At 16, they have their own social lives, and probably that’s the way it ought to be. So youngest generation had their own barbecue and they would have cooked for the Old People, but it was too early for me and Garry. I cooked our food later. No problem.
Without communal festivities, I was left with time on my hand. It was a nice day. Too nice to not least venture outside and give my camera a bit of exercise. I decided, against all logic and reason, to try getting some pictures of the dogs.
You’d think, with four dogs I’d be able to catch a few good pictures, but my dogs have a sixth sense. The moment I turn the camera on, they are all over me, licking and jumping. If they would stay back far enough so I could at least focus, I might get a few pictures that look like dogs, but all I get are nose smudges as they press their big black noses against the front of the lens or great shots of the rear ends of the retreating canines.
And people ask me why I use a filter to protect my lens! Welcome to my world.
With nothing to lose, I tried something new: shooting through the front gate.
Meet our pack of Dangerous Dogs, shown here in their natural habitat. If their obvious fierceness fails to intimidate you, be careful. You never know what they’ll do if they smell cheeseburger on your breath.
As a child, I collected books. I had no money of my own, but my mother was a sucker for books, and though almost everything else from those log ago days have been lost, I still have some of the books I loved as a child.
I was born to collect, but lack of funds and a home of my own limited me until I hit my stride as a married, working adult. Armed with money, I could choose from an entire world of beautiful things. Although many collections have come and gone, three things have remained constant: the dolls of my girlhood, antique porcelain, and books.
I no longer collect. The shelves, walls, bookcases and every other place that might house a collectible is full. The “No Vacancy” sign has gone up on our lives. We are in the “cutting down,” not acquiring stage.
My favorite dolls — now a mere couple of hundred from who-knows-how-many — surround me. In every room, in hallways, on high shelves and in glass-fronted cabinets, dolls stand, smile and wave. At night, they whisper secrets about the things they’ve seen, places and people they’ve known. I wish I could hear them, but their voices are too soft. They speak amongst themselves, not for human ears.
I’ve held onto a modest, but satisfying collection of my antique Chinese porcelain too.
The dolls were born of my never-ending attempt to reconnect with something happy from a difficult childhood, but the porcelain grew from my love of history.
I wish my porcelain could talk because oh, the stories it could tell. When I hold a perfect 5,000 year-old pot, I imagine the lives that pot has touched. How many kitchens it has lived in, how many different things were stored in it.
I feel a little buzz when I hold the very oldest of my porcelain pieces –a painted vase from China’s neolithic period — and imagine the history to which it has been witness. It was made at a time when Europeans were still living in caves and wearing animal skins, yet the Chinese were making painted pots of fired river clay, pre-porcelain from the earliest human civilization. I have Han pot, a Tang horseman, vases and some bronze pieces that span thousands of years.
At night, when I take off my earrings, I drop it into a Qing dynasty Tongzhi/Guangxu late 19th century “Cabaret dish.” I have Eucalyptus branches in a Jun vase with a shiny black glaze that at first I couldn’t believe was real, but turned out to be genuine.
I have a set of Sui musicians, and although I know they have been repaired and are not entirely original (I would never have been able to afford them if they were perfect … they’d be in a museum, not on my mantel), I love them no less for their needing reconstruction. If I were 1,500 years old, I’d probably need a bit of reconstruction too.
These are a few of my favorite things, but my favorite of all favorites is Annabelle.
Annabelle was made for one year by Madame Alexander. The year was 1952 and for my 5th birthday, my mother gave me Annabelle. How I loved her. She slept with me. I talked to her. I dressed her each day and when her wig wore out, my mother sent her to a doll hospital and had her touched up, restrung and re-wigged. When I left for Israel, I still had Annabelle, the one and only surviving physical piece of my childhood. I didn’t want to take her with me, so I gave her to my best friend’s daughter … who has her still.
A few years ago I was lucky to find another Annabelle, one identical to the doll I’d gotten for my birthday. And she is still my favorite doll, my favorite almost-a-person.
She is my friend and I still talk to her.
There are dolls all over the house and everyone talks to them, the same way we talk to our dogs. We don’t expect them to answer, but they are very good listeners.
The pottery is elegantly arrayed in my living room, on the mantel, in display cases in the dining room and a few pieces in the bedroom. Dolls stand atop every bookcase, on shelves throughout the house. Several hundred pairs of eyes, watching me. I like it.
Other girls lived nearby but were not eligible to join our group. Tribal affiliation was accounted block by block. You belonged to the group of kids whose block you shared. Woe to he or she who lived on a block without other children of the same age and sex. The isolation would have been fearsome.
I did not know what went on in anyone else’s house but my own. I imagined that the lights were bright and cheerful in the other houses and there were no dark shadows, nor was there any sadness or pain anywhere but in my scary world.
In my world, the scream of a child in pain was an everyday background noise. It was the sound of life going on as usual. Behind it, you could hear my mother pleading: “Alf, please, the neighbors will hear!” as if the issue was really whether or not people knew what was going on. Did my mother believe if the neighbors didn’t hear the pandemonium, it didn’t count? Or if other people didn’t hear it, nothing had happened? Perhaps it was that she knew nothing else to say that might quiet my father, stop his rampage.
Meanwhile, across the street, Karen’s mother was drinking herself into a coma every night and the only thing that kept Karen from a nightly beating was her father. He was a kindly older man who seemed to be from another world. As it turned out, he would soon go to another world. Before summer was ended, Karen’s father died of a heart attack and after that, she fought her battles alone.
Down the street, in the old clapboard house where I thought Liz led a perfect life, an endless battle raged. Liz’s father never earned enough money and their house was slowly but surely crumbling around them. The house belonged to Liz’s grandmother who lived with them. Nana was senile, incontinent and mean, but she owned the place. No Nana, no house. In her lucid moments, she never failed to remind Liz’s dad that the entire family lived there on sufferance. Her sufferance. Where I imagined a life full of peace and good will, there was neither.
What a lovely neighborhood I grew up in. There we were, living in our fine old homes shaded by the giant white oaks, our green lawns rolling down to quiet streets where it was safe to play stick ball or tag any time of day or night. Few cars came through our little enclave, so far off the beaten track were we. I’m sure that the very few travelers that happened through, probably lost and looking for some other neighborhood much better traveled, envied us.
“How lucky these folks are,” they must have thought, seeing our grand old houses and huge properties. “These people must be so happy.”
I have a picture in my album. It’s in black and white and a bit faded now. It shows the three of us … Karen, Liz, and me … sitting in Liz’s back yard. Liz looks very pretty and somehow very grown-up. Karen looks like the kid from the Campbell’s soup commercial, all dimples and freckles, carefree and happy. There I am. I’m the tiny one. I was always the smallest, a pipsqueak, looking just a little sad, not quite smiling. My mother had wrangled my hair into two pony tails that day to keep it out of my eyes and tied a ribbon on each clump of hair.
We envied one another and thought the other much better off. It would be many years before we discovered one another’s secrets and by then, we would be adults and it would be too late to give each other the comfort we had all needed as we grew up, sad and alone in our houses, so many years ago.
I was just reminded of something. I go long periods and don’t think about it, but I shouldn’t, and neither should you. By “you” I mean absolutely everyone. Whatever you do — write, take pictures, or whatever — if you do it on a computer, back it up. I learned the hard way.
ILOVEYOU (aka Love Letter), was a computer worm that attacked tens of millions of PCs on and shortly after May 5, 2000. It showed up as an email message with the subject “ILOVEYOU” and an attachment: “LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.txt.vbs“. The ‘VBS‘ file extension was typically hidden by default on PCs back then. It wasn’t on my computer, but I worked on a development team on my own computer at home — an early telecommuter — so it wasn’t unusual for me to get files full of code as part of my job.
It took a mere few seconds to destroy every single jpeg file on my computer. That represented all of the photographs I had ever taken that I was storing on my hard drive, more than a decade of family and artistic pictures. It only took a few hours for a fix to be created and distributed, but it was too late for me.
I had been backing up to CDs, but I hadn’t backed up my photos, only financial records and my writing because that was work-related.
I lost hundreds, maybe thousands, of photographs.
External hard drives existed, but they were uncommon and expensive — very expensive. Now, there’s no excuse. You can get a huge external hard drive for short money. I back up intermittently to my two external drives, but a make sure to move files between my laptop and my big desktop everyday, and I save things online too
Eventually, I have 3 or 4 copies of everything, not counting whatever I store online. I don’t feel it’s too much. You can’t have too many backups of things that are important.
Even if it doesn’t seem very important. it can suddenly become very important if you have lost it forever and can never replace it. Back everything up. If it’s important enough to save it on your hard drive, it’s important enough to back up.
You can, for example, get a 3 TB external Seagate drive from Amazon for $139 including shipping. One and two terabyte drives are less expensive. If you don’t like that, there are ample choices for every budget. Don’t make excuses. One day, something bad will happen. A hard drive dies on you. It happens. It has happened to me twice. The first time, it was a secondary hard drive and I got enough warning to get my stuff off the drive. The second time, a message in a black message box — I’ve never seen one like that before or since — appeared on my screen saying that there was a problem with my hard drive, back up now. By the time I finished reading the message, everything was gone.
But that time, everything was backed up. It was an inconvenience, not a catastrophe. I had learned my lesson.
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